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November 9, 2017 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  This month’s GCN is being distributed early this month, since next week I’ll be aboard Un-Cruise Adventures’ 62-guest Safari Voyager, which is not equipped for internet access, exploring the coastal Pacific national parks and wildlife preserves of Costa Rica and Panama, as well as making an evening transit of the Panama Canal.  Although this time around I was planning to cover all three of the European cruises I enjoyed last month, the third of the trio, aboard Windstar Cruises’ Wind Surf, turned out to be such an extraordinarily fine voyage that it deserves more extended coverage, which I’ll be delaying until next month.


First, in Copenhagen late in September, my traveling companion ‘Di’ Varnell and I boarded Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Getaway for a late-season, nine-night Baltic sailing featuring a most attractive itinerary that the ship had repeated throughout the late spring and summer months.  Along our route were several of Northern Europe’s storied capital cities as well as two days in St. Petersburg, Russia.  First, it’s important to note that the Getaway, one of the company’s newest vessels, is big, very big, which allows guests to choose from a truly astounding variety of onboard activities, entertainment and dining venues designed to suit virtually every taste.  We cruised with about 4,000 other guests aboard this mammoth, 1,068-foot long, 145,655-ton, immaculately-maintained vessel.  As is typical for the line, food and service were uniformly excellent, and the extra-cost “specialty dining” restaurants (we enjoyed both Cagney’s Steakhouse and the Moderno Churrascaria) offer ideal settings for celebrating a special occasion.  Altogether there are some two dozen ways and places to get something to eat.  However, my best reason for recommending Norwegian Getaway is that I’ve never encountered a staff on a vessel in any price category that was uniformly more friendly, welcoming, professional and helpful than I found here, so the people really made a difference.  Even mass morning shore excursion departures, sheer bedlam on some ships, were extremely well handled.  I had but a few, minor concerns…for example, the ship’s 16 large elevators are situated in only two ‘banks,’ so groups with older or disabled travelers should secure cabins near these lifts to avoid extended corridor strolls.


After Copenhagen, where a pre-cruise overnight stay afforded ample time for exploring on our own, we visited modern Berlin by chartered train from the port at Rostock/Warneműnde.  The city has been totally rebuilt since World War II and the subsequent days of the notorious Berlin Wall.  In the beautiful old cities of Tallinn, Estonia, and Stockholm, Sweden, “hop-on, hop-off” bus tours proved ideal to affordably get our bearings before heading off on foot to see countless fascinating sights, both historic and contemporary.  In St. Petersburg, cruise guests without formal Russian visas can only take organized shore excursions sold aboard ship, which we took to the magnificent Peterhof summer palace, the world-famous Hermitage Museum, and other splendid area attractions.  Unfortunately, late in our stay here, high winds and waves developed that delayed Norwegian Getaway from safely exiting the rather narrow and shallow harbor channel, so we were forced to spend a second night at the city’s cruise ship facility and forego our scheduled stop in Helsinki, Finland.  Nevertheless, it was 1999 when I last visited all these Baltic ports, so it was most instructive to see the changes that had been made in the past 18 years, especially in Berlin and St. Petersburg.


Secondly, the nine-day trip from Hamburg to Barcelona on MSC Cruises’ 139,072-ton, 4,345-guest MSC Preziosa turned out to be a very interesting experience.  MSC is not yet a household name in North America, despite the fact that it has operated Caribbean cruises from PortMiami for more than a decade.  However, the Switzerland-based company (which is also the world’s second-largest operator of freighters, with a roster of some 460 ships) has recently embarked on a massive expansion project, as reported previously in GCN.  By next month, the line will have 14 large to very large cruise ships online, plus a whole new generation of mammoth vessels on order.  I was told by MSC Preziosa’s Guest Services Manager that MSC has ambitions to shortly begin sailing worldwide, to destinations such as Alaska, Australia and Asia.  And despite a few relatively minor design flaws, the ship itself is beautiful, extremely well maintained, and there are a number of excellent staff members aboard who are certainly well-intentioned and attempted to be as helpful as possible.  Our standard balcony stateroom near the stern was spacious and most comfortable, plus the main showroom, the 1,600-seat Platinum Theatre, is surely one of the most attractive that I have ever seen at sea.  Our generally well-designed “repositioning” itinerary included Zeebrugge, Belgium, the port for the splendid historic city of Bruges nearby (replacing Le Havre, France, due to a general strike of French workers); Southampton, U.K.; La Coruna, Spain (for Santiago de Compostela); Lisbon, Portugal; and Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory.


Nevertheless, I feel that MSC Preziosa’s product is still somewhat of a “work in progress,” simply because U.S. travelers are sure to discover a variety of policies, procedures and practices that vary significantly with expectations that have been created by years of cruising with the major lines that market heavily in North America.  Unless this was somehow an anomaly, at present the MSC experience overall is definitely a different one from that delivered routinely by such other lines as Holland America, Celebrity, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean, all major American players, and whom MSC will eventually learn to mimic to some extent if it is going to make serious inroads in that market for sailings worldwide.  However, if you can score an attractive ‘deal,’ I certainly wouldn’t shy away from traveling with MSC now, as long as you are flexible enough to appreciate something different than that to which you have become accustomed.  Perhaps it is another story for MSC Divina (to be joined next month by the brand-new MSC Seaside), cruising the Caribbean out of PortMiami, but having no first-hand experienced with those sailings, I’m simply not qualified to comment on them.



Adventure Smith Explorations’ first Alaska sailing of the 2018 season is set for April 14, 2018, aboard Wilderness Adventurer’s new “Glacier Bay National Park Adventure Cruise” route. A major benefit of cruising in April will be opportunities to see more wildlife, when moose, wolves and bears with cubs are particularly active.  The company is offering 2018 Alaska savings, including select April and May cruises aboard the Wilderness & Safari small ship fleet at $400 off per couple when booked by December 15; select May sailings of “Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness” that offer free airfare when booked by December 30; select April and May “Treasures of the Inside Passage” departures sailing from Seattle to Alaska which offer free one-way airfare when booked by December 31; and select May and June land-based trips on the Kenai Peninsula and/or exploring Denali National Park that offer a per person savings of up to $650.


Aida Cruises bid “bon voyage” to AIDAcara for the line’s first world cruise on October 17 in Hamburg.  Scheduled are visits to 41 ports in 23 countries on five continents in 116 days. Highlights of the trip include visits to Easter Island, New Zealand and Australia, the Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro and the Maldives.  Elsewhere, on November 4, AIDAluna arrived in La Romana in the Dominican Republic, ushering in this year’s Caribbean season for the German line.  AIDAdiva and AIDAmar will soon follow and embark on 14-day trips from November through March from, in addition to La Romana, Bridgetown (Barbados), Montego Bay (Jamaica) and Santo Domingo, also in the Dominican Republic.


American Queen Steamboat Company has introduced a new travel agent certification program, the “Steamboat Academy.”  This accreditation program is designed to enhance travel agent knowledge of AQSC products and destinations, leading to increased sales and commissions.  The six basic courses include:  “Introduction to American Queen Steamboat Company,” one on each of the line’s three vessels…American QueenAmerican Empress and American Duchess, plus shore excursions and group reservations.  Agents must successfully pass a quiz after each course to be designated a Steamboat Academy certified agent. Ongoing education courses will keep agents current with trends, destination spotlights and product enhancements.  In other news, AQSC has announced an “End of Season Sale” for single and solo travelers, with savings of up to $6,499 for selected departures of American Duchess.  Fares begin at $2,799.


Carnival Australia has moved its head office to the commercial hub of Chatswood on Sydney’s Lower North Shore.  The move to 465 Victoria Avenue follows Carnival Australia being based at 15 Mount Street in North Sydney for the past eight years.  The new facilities are located on four levels from floors three to six at its head office building, which is convenient to Chatswood’s train and bus interchange.  All cruise booking telephone numbers remain unchanged for Carnival Australia’s seven brands…P&O Cruises Australia, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Cunard, Holland America Line, Seabourn and P&O Cruises World Cruising.


Carnival Cruise Line hosted a “Build-A-Bear Workshop” event on October 23 that provided more than 100 kids from the Brevard, Florida-area Boys & Girls Clubs with a day of fun aboard Carnival Magic in Port Canaveral.  Coinciding with Build-A-Bear’s 20th Birthday, the event offered kids a chance to make their own cuddly bears, customized with a Carnival T-shirt and other accessories.  Each bear came with its own “birth certificate” and a special logoed drawstring bag for safekeeping.  Kids also enjoyed bear-themed sweets and a pizza party, along with tours of the 130,000-ton vessel.  The day culminated with a $10,000 donation from the line to the Boys & Girls Clubs.  Elsewhere, Carnival, the Official Cruise Line of the New Orleans Saints, and the Brees Dream Foundation have teamed up for a sweepstakes awarding a different fan a free cruise each time the Saints pass for more than 300 yards in a game during the 2017 season.  A 17-year NFL veteran and the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV, Drew Brees is one of the most prolific passers in league history with a record 113 career 300-yard passing games, including the playoffs.  In other news, the line has announced that the massive LED “Dreamscape” atrium sculpture on the new Carnival Horizon will feature colorful, custom-designed artwork created by patients of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, one of Carnival’s largest charitable partners, when the 133,500-ton ship debuts in Europe in spring, 2018.  The three-deck high centerpiece in the vessel’s atrium will feature 33 different artistic creations.  Also, in honor of Veterans Day, Carnival is enhancing its military offerings benefiting active and retired members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The line is launching a new monthly cruise giveaway for military families who attend one of Carnival’s military appreciation events held on board during every cruise across the fleet…a chance for military families to win a free three- to eight-day cruise from any U.S. homeport to the Bahamas, Caribbean or Mexico.  One drawing per month will be held from all entries received fleetwide, with the monthly winners to be announced on the Facebook page of Carnival’s cruise director turned brand ambassador, John Heald. The events will also feature a new video tribute honoring the Armed Forces and narrated by Carnival President Christine Duffy.  Finally, the line has announced it has signed an agreement with Shell to be its supplier of marine liquefied natural gas (LNG) to power North America’s first fully LNG-powered cruise ships. Under this framework agreement, Shell will supply Carnival with fuel for its two new LNG-powered ships expected to launch in 2020 and 2022.  As part of the agreement, the two vessels, built with a next-generation “green cruising” ship design, will be fueled through Shell’s LNG Bunker Barge (LBB), a project that is part of Shell’s strategic plan to develop a global LNG bunkering network. The ocean-going LBB, which is designed to support growing cruise line demand for LNG as a marine fuel, will be the first of its kind in the U.S. and will allow these ships to refuel with LNG at ports along the southern U.S. East Coast.


Celebrity Cruises will have five ships, including its newest, Celebrity Edge, sailing in Europe during 2019, from Athens to Barcelona to Reykjavik.  Scheduled are stops in 27 different countries, overnight stays in 16 cities, and visits to more than 90 ports of call, including three new ports for the line:  Nauplion, Greece; Rijeka, Croatia; and Santa Margherita, Italy.  Bookings made by May 31, 2018, of any 2019 Celebrity European vacation in an ocean-view stateroom or higher will allow each of the first two guests in the stateroom to choose one of four perks…a classic beverage package, unlimited wi-fi access, prepaid gratuities, or a $150 onboard credit.  In other news Celebrity’s next “Captain’s Club Reunion Cruise” has been scheduled to depart Buenos Aires on December 9, 2018, aboard Celebrity Eclipse.  This 14-night adventure through South America will include such destinations as Puerto Madryn, Punta Arenas, Montevideo and Cape Horn, where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet.


Crystal Cruises has announced two new additions to its public relations team, Kristine McGlinchey as manager of public relations and Joanne Lee as specialist, public relations.  Both are based in the Miami office.  McGlinchey joins Crystal from Brustman Carrino Public Relations, where she implemented press campaigns for numerous high-profile restaurant and hospitality clients as Account Director at the Miami boutique firm.  Before joining the agency, she began her career in travel and tourism as a member of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Public Relations team, where she assisted with the launch of new ships and media relations.  Lee comes to Crystal from the Hilton Miami Downtown, where she has worked for three and a half years in several different positions, including most recently as Guest Services Manager.


Disney Cruise Line, in early 2019, plans a return to favorite destinations on a variety of itineraries, including an expanded two-month season from San Diego to the Baja and Mexican Riviera.  A host of options to the Bahamas and Caribbean from Florida ports, plus cruises to the Southern Caribbean from San Juan, Puerto Rico, will take guests to visit numerous tropical locales while experiencing the line’s iconic “Disney Magic.”


Three of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines’ ships will undergo multi-million pound refits this winter, in preparation for the start of the 2018/19 cruise season.  Two of the line’s vessels…Braemar and Balmoral…will be refurbished before Christmas, with the third, Boudicca, to be upgraded during March, 2018.  Black Watch benefitted from extensive improvement work at the end of last year.  The work schedule includes upgrading the existing public areas and creating new facilities such as a new restaurants and gelato bar on Balmoral; a new dining room on Boudicca; a new buffet restaurant on Braemar; plus cabin enhancements across the fleet.


Holland America Line is making sure that guests who pre-book the line’s “EXC Tours” will have the lowest rates through a “Best Price Guarantee” program launched earlier this week.  Best Price Guarantee is available on all ships and all itineraries except Asia cruises, and promises that if a guest finds a comparable shore excursion elsewhere at a lower price, HAL will provide an onboard credit of 110 percent of the price difference.  If a guest pre-books a HAL EXC Tour (shore excursion) and then finds an equivalent tour that offers the same amenities and experiences, including date, time, duration, transportation and meals, then a request can easily be submitted through an online form up to seven days before cruise departure.  Guests will be notified within two days of submission if the tour meets the requirements for Best Price Guarantee.  If eligible, guests will receive a non-refundable onboard credit to be used during their cruise.  Best Price Guarantee only applies to shore excursions that are advertised with pricing and publicly available.  Guests who cancel their EXC Tour on board will not be eligible for the Best Price Guarantee credit.


MSC Cruises has announced the second season of “Kelly & Kloe,” which came about as part of a family engagement program allowing the line’s kid guests to star on the show.  More than 85,000 children auditioned for the series as part of the Kelly & Kloe experience on board, just one of the many entertainment activities available across the fleet for kids of all ages, with finalists chosen by a panel of judges.  The whole web series features 21 cruise guests, and arrived in time for Halloween, featuring the holiday on board MSC Meraviglia in a dedicated episode.  The series can be viewed on YouTube.  In other news, on November 2, MSC began a 50-day countdown until the Caribbean’s newest ship, MSC Seaside, brings her “beach condo” design to Miami.  As MSC’s first ship to go directly from the shipyard to the U.S., MSC Seaside will be officially welcomed with a naming ceremony led by screen legend and the ship’s godmother, Sophia Loren, and attended by football legend and Miami Dolphins alum, Dan Marino.  Currently finishing construction in Monfalcone, Italy, MSC Seaside will then depart to Trieste, Italy, where she will begin her transatlantic sailing to Miami on December 1.  MSC Seaside is scheduled to arrive in Miami on December 21.  After the two-day special launch event, the vessel will depart on her first 7-night Caribbean sailing on December 23, in time to celebrate the holidays at sea.


Norwegian Cruise Line announced on October 18 the successful completion of the retrofitting of a new exhaust gas cleaning system on two of its ships, Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Jade.  In conjunction with the line’s “Sail & Sustain” environmental program, the new systems are aimed at significantly reducing air emissions, and consequently the ships’ environmental footprints.  Early in 2014, Norwegian made the commitment to retrofitting six vessels, and has now exceeded that commitment with eight ships total.  In other news, on October 23, the line announced new enhancements for its “Norwegian Cruise Line University” education program dedicated exclusively for travel partners, featuring tailored courses designed to develop agent business and help them close more sales.  The new mobile and tablet-friendly program features four levels of achievement for enrolled partners to earn:  Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. “degrees.”  Next, on October 25, Norwegian opened for sale its 2018-2019 Australia and New Zealand cruises aboard Norwegian Jewel.  Following a three-week dry-dock refurbishment in Singapore during October, 2018, the vessel will spend a second season “down under” cruising Australian itineraries that include Melbourne, Cairns and Hobart; New Zealand sailings featuring Milford Sound, Wellington and Tauranga; as well as itineraries to the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and a transpacific voyage from Vancouver to Tokyo (Yokohama).


P&O Cruises Australia, following a successful Australian Open which had record attendance at Rod Laver Arena earlier this year, has added a second cruise to the January championship in 2018 and introduced a new tennis-themed high tea menu onboard.  Featuring strawberries and cream, scones and savouries, all washed down with Pimms and champagne, the new menu will be available at the Waterfront restaurant onboard its ships cruising to the event.  Pacific Eden and Pacific Explorer will depart Sydney on five-night round-trips to Melbourne on January 17 and 19 respectively. The cruises form part of P&O’s “Main Events” line-up and include general admission tickets for two day sessions and one night session at the Australian Open, as well as return transfers to Melbourne Park.  In other news, P&O is giving Australian travel agents the chance to be part of NRL history at Western Australia’s first ever double header rugby game in Round 1 of the 2018 NRL Telstra Premiership season.  Running for the month of November, the incentive program will give away 50 tickets to the historic season opener at the brand new Perth Stadium on March 10.  Winning agents will have the chance to witness the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs tackle the Melbourne Storm and the South Sydney Rabbitohs take on the New Zealand Warriors for their first home games of the year.  The prize also includes twin share accommodation at the Crown Towers Perth, a welcome reception party, return coach transfers from hotel to stadium and a $1,000 Visa Gift Card to use towards travel expenses.


Princess Cruises has announced its third annual “Culinary Cruise Series,” featuring Miami-based chefs Brad Kilgore and Scott LinquistSailing on Regal Princess out of Fort Lauderdale from February 11 to 18, 2018, the four-port Western Caribbean cruise will include a selection of daily activities and adventures, allowing cruisers to participate in chef-led cooking demonstrations, attend cookbook signings and Q+A sessions, experience special menus featured throughout the ship’s restaurant and bars, and learn cuisine skills to take home with them.  Guests will also be able to explore parts of the Caribbean and Mexico alongside the chefs, as each leads a customized excursion.  Noted for his Mexican cuisine, Chef Linquist will lead the Cozumel excursion, while Chef Kilgore will lead the Jamaican excursion. Other port stops include Princess Cays and Grand Cayman.


Today, Royal Caribbean International marked an important milestone in the development of its newest ship, Spectrum of the Seas, when her keel was lowered into place at the Neptun Werft shipyard in Rostock, Germany.  The keel-laying signifies the beginning of the ship’s physical construction.  During the ceremony, a 620-ton block measuring 59 feet by 121 feet was lifted into the building dock with an 800-ton crane.  Set to debut in 2019, Spectrum will be the next evolution of the line’s high-tech Quantum class of ships, placing the vessel in a new class of her own called Quantum Ultra.  The ship will be specifically designed for guests in China and the Asia-Pacific region, and will feature cutting-edge experiences and amenities.


Scenic’s new 2018-2019 Southeast Asia brochure offers details on the company’s varied cruises and land-based add-ons in one of the world’s most exotic regions.  Sailing along the Mekong River as it meanders through Vietnam and Cambodia or on Myanmar’s culturally-rich Irrawaddy River is a magnet for many world travelers, leading to the company’s two luxury “Space Ships,” Scenic Spirit and Scenic Aura, to reportedly book up well in advance.  Booking early (by this coming February 28 in the U.S., or by December 31, 2017, in Canada) allows guests to save up to $1,000 per couple or enjoy free flights.  Scenic is also introducing a new itinerary, a “Luxury Mekong and Temples Discovery” cruise and tour, as well as four new land-based, add-on itineraries.  In other news, as the August 31, 2018 debut of the company’s first “Discovery Yacht,” Scenic Eclipse, draws closer, Scenic is offering details on many of the shore excursions available to guests during the ship’s inaugural season of cruises. As is the case on all Scenic cruises, “Scenic Freechoice” and “Scenic Enrich” excursions are included in the company’s signature all-inclusive fares, making choosing which excursion to take the only challenge.  A limited number of early-bird booking savings is still available on select itineraries.  Finally, Scenic and National Geographic Expeditions have teamed up to launch a new line of National Geographic River Cruises. These new offerings will combine the company’s all-inclusive luxury river cruise experience with National Geographic’s 129-year legacy of science, conservation and exploration to create an enhanced experience for travelers.  Each sailing will be accompanied by a National Geographic expert, who will enrich the experience through educational presentations and informal discussions throughout the trip.  European cruises will also have a National Geographic photographer on board to share professional techniques and help guests hone their photographic skills.


SeaDream Yacht Club has announced extended hours in its reservations department.  Due to increased demand, the department is now available on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST, in addition to Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.  SeaDream will conclude its 2017 calendar with holiday sailings in the Caribbean before beginning a full schedule in 2018 with itineraries set in both the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, as well as special themed voyages.  Sailings from Bridgetown, Barbados offer itineraries through the Grenadines, the southern region of the Caribbean that did not experience a hurricane this year.  Islands such as Mayreau, Bequia and St. Lucia are mountainous and vividly green, as well as being largely undeveloped and known for their natural, unspoiled beauty.


Silversea Cruises has launched a limited-time offer of free shore excursions on its sailings to the tropical isles of the Caribbean.  On select 2018 voyages of the all-suite Silver Wind and Silver Muse, guests may enrich their cruise experience with a free shore excursion in every port of call.  Whether it’s exploring Antigua’s historic English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, spotting celebrity hideaways in the Grenadines while sailing on a catamaran, or admiring the white-sand beaches of Grand Turk on horseback, these small-group excursions present a destination’s history, culture and natural wonders in an intimate way, utilizing comfortable transportation and expert local guides.  Examples of other free shore excursions being offered include “Nutmeg and Waterfall” in St. George’s, Grenada; “Turtles and Snorkeling” in Bridgetown, Barbados; and “Botanical Gardens and Suspension Bridge” in Fort-de-France, Martinique.  In other news, the line’s Silver Cloud has completed an extensive two-month refurbishment at a total investment of over $40 million to become an ice class expedition vessel.  The ship is now travelling to Buenos Aires, where guests will embark on her inaugural expedition voyage to Antarctica on November 15.  Unique to Silver Cloud, guests will benefit from a newly installed Photo Studio which enables content editing onboard.  With several masterclasses being offered, a dedicated photo manager and an editing suite, guests can better capture images of their expedition voyage and make prints on board.  State-of-the-art equipment will cater to both MAC and PC users.  Furthermore, the ship will carry 16 zodiacs and 10 kayaks to allow guests to experience kayak polar exploration, led by a team of expedition experts.  Daily presentations and lectures presented in the state-of-the-art theatre will also be streamed live to all suites.


Star Clippers is rewarding guests who book one of its signature, 12 to 17-night “Grand Voyages” for 2018 by December 15 with a $499 round trip airfare per person to Europe from any of 12 gateway airports, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York’s JFK, Philadelphia and both Reagan and Dulles Airports in Washington, D.C.  Grand Voyage itineraries include a 12-night Lisbon to Cannes sailing with stops in Morocco, Gibraltar, Spain, the Balearic Islands, Corsica and France on Royal Clipper; and a 17-night sailing on Star Flyer from Malta to Las Palmas that includes port calls in Sicily, Sardinia, Ibiza, Spain, Morocco and the Canary Islands.  Prices start at $3,030 per person, single or double, for a 12-night sailing, and $3,400 per person, single or double, for 17-nights.  Elsewhere, in honor of Veteran’s Day and to show appreciation and support for the country’s veterans, the line is offering all veterans, active military personnel and their families 15% savings on any upcoming Star Clippers sailing, when booked by November 30.


Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is offering travelers a variety of savings on its 2018 programs:  $2,000 per stateroom in any category with “Picture-Perfect Deals;” 10% early booking savings; included airfare or $1,000 cruise-only credit as part of its “Masterpiece Collection;” 15% off to unique destinations featured in its “Exotics Offer;” waived or reduced single supplements on select itineraries; and 5% additional discount for River Heritage Club members.  Obviously, conditions apply.  In other news, the line’s July 20, 2018, sailing of its Jewish Heritage program featuring the “Remarkable Rhine,” will offer a series of lectures from Dr. Rachel Korazim, an Israeli Jewish education consultant and teacher.  Her signature lecture, “Great Jewish-Hebrew Writers Along Our Way,” recounts the history of three of the most famous Jewish-Hebrew writers of the early twentieth century and why they chose Germany as their home.  Finally, renowned travel photographer Mark Edward Harris will serve as Uniworld’s photography instructor and mentor on select cruises in 2018.  Each workshop will feature insightful tips, one-on-one critiques and the opportunity for guests to shoot side by side with Mark.


Viking Cruises, the world’s largest river cruise line, announced on October 24 that it has placed an order for seven new river ships that will debut in 2019.  The newbuild order includes six additional “Viking Longships,” which will sail the company’s most popular itineraries on the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers, plus one additional smaller vessel specifically designed for Portugal’s Douro River.  With the addition of the new river ships, Viking will operate a fleet of 69 river vessels around the world in 2019.  Also by 2019, Viking will welcome its sixth ocean ship and will reportedly become the largest small-ship ocean cruise line at that time.


Virgin Voyages’ President and CEO Tom McAlpin and Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson hosted a “Ship Tease” on October 31, where key details were revealed about what travelers can expect on the first of three 2,700-guest ships, coming to the high seas beginning in 2020.  On site at Fincantieri’s shipyard in Genoa, Italy, they also celebrated the laying of the keel for the first ship, marking the commencement of construction.  It was also announced that Virgin Voyages is now “open for business,” which allows future sailors and travel partners to place a $500 refundable deposit for access to an exclusive pre-sale before Virgin Voyages goes on general sale.  McAlpin wrapped up the ceremony by introducing Grammy Award-winning artist Boy George, who then performed as the night’s DJ.


Windstar Cruises is promoting group sailings on select dates, offering a free cruise to the eighth cruiser for every seven people booked.  On higher-demand cruises, it’s one free cruise for every nine people that are booked.  In addition, groups also get a discount off of standard guest fares, as well as a $100 per person shipboard credit to use on things like massages, shore excursions, or bottles of champagne.  On certain dates (dubbed Star Advantage dates), travel agents earn a $100 bonus commission for each individual guest booked after the first free cruise is awarded.  However guests choose to celebrate or share the savings, Windstar is also able to help elevate the festivities with a variety of celebration options on board their vessels, and may also arrange for shore excursions and other activities exclusively for the group.  In other news, the line has engaged Chef Andy Ricker as the new guest chef aboard its January 20, 2018, “Icons of Southeast Asia” sailing.  This “James Beard Foundation Culinary Collection” cruise is a 14-day journey from Hong Kong to Bangkok.  Ricker, a celebrated Thai cuisine chef, is the owner of Pok Piok Restaurants, with branches in Portland and New York City. He first visited Thailand as a backpacker in 1987, and since then, he has spent several months each year living, traveling, eating, cooking, and studying the food culture in Thailand and neighboring countries, including Vietnam.  Chef Ricker, a two-time James Beard Award winner and best-selling cookbook author, replaces Chef Lee Anne Wong as the featured chef, who had to cancel due to family commitments.  Elsewhere, the company’s flagship sailing vessel Wind Surf, one of the largest motor sail yachts in the world, has recently received new sails, nearly half a football field worth of Dacron sail-cloth measuring 21,570 square feet.  Wind Surf’s five new sails were hand-crafted in France by a team of maritime designers and artisans at Incidence Sails, the nation’s largest commercial sailmaker.  Spread across Wind Surf’s five towering masts, the triangular sails, which are replaced about every five years, are unfurled daily to harness the power of the wind and help propel the ship.  I actually have personal knowledge of this subject, since while relaxing on an upper Wind Surf deck, I was required to move while part of the installation process took place.